According to railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, the national transporter has already started the first few pilots on what are called solid state electronic route relay devices and signals and propose to make this the standard in 10-11 months.
“This technology would further reduce chances of accidents triggered by human error and switching and signalling failures. So, we have already started working on it and the results are coming out very well,” Vaishnaw told Mint.
“The switch to new standards is going to be part of the upgradation work carried out by the railways. In any case, we must continuously upgrade and replace the relays when they complete their life. That part of time, we can replace them with direct drives.”
Indian Railways currently uses electro-mechanical network to manage its signalling systems. The switch from this to solid state electronic route relay devices that control signals is largely expected to be covered in three years.
Railways wants to this switch to be introduced on mission mode so that almost the entire network along 8,000 stations have electronic interlocking signals with solid state relays.
Interlocking systems refer to a crucial safety mechanism used to control train movements and ensure safe operations at railway stations and junctions. It is a complex network of signals, switches, and track circuits that work together to prevent conflicting movements and collisions.
Electronic interlocking (EI) employs computer-based systems and electronic equipment to control signals, switches and level-crossing gates. It ensures all these elements are synchronized to facilitate uninterrupted train movement.
Relay, on the other hand, is a device which controls the electrical circuit which operates the EI. A solid-state relay is a non-contact switch, without the risk of sparking and wiring interference as there are no mechanical elements.
The system change has been triggered by the collision in Balasore, Odisha, where initial investigations by the commissioner of railway security (CRS) pointed to human error and faulty signalling for the tragedy that claimed 294 lives.
“Though the system being used by Railways now is a fool-proof and fail- proof system that is being used by railway networks across the globe, the proposed changes would further eliminate the need for frequent wiring changes in the switches present on route relay panels that operate the electronic interlocking and track points forming part of the signalling network,” said a rail ministry official on condition of anonymity.
The change will be monumental, given that the new system will replace all the 7-800,000 signalling points using electro-mechanical systems along the railways’ 70,000 km network in the country.
The changeover will need to be tested and re-tested and would require fresh standard operating procedures to maintain smooth and safe movement of trains across the country. Questions to the rail remained unanswered at press time, but officials said tenders for signalling overhaul would be floated soon after the 2024 general elections.
Railways has already approved Japanese vendor Kyosan to convert its signalling system to electronic. The first set of orders for this changeover may be given to this company. However, given the scale of work, more vendors are being identified.
“The electronic solid state relay panels is being actively used by railway networks in Japan and a few other countries and India would soon come in the league of select countries that have this system to operate railway signalling,” said the official quoted above.
Though the EI plan is to be completed by FY27, complete switchover may only happen in five to eight year’s time experts opine.
Railways, which has got record budgetary capital outlay of ₹2.40 trillion for FY24, more funds for carrying out various safety and security measures including modernisation of signalling system are expected in the next Budget.
Advanced Signalling System involving Panel Interlocking, Route Relay Interlocking, Electronic Interlocking along with Multiple Aspect Colour Light Signals have been provided at 6,396 Stations already. Besides, Block Proving by Axle Counter (BPAC) to ensure complete arrival of train without manual intervention before granting line clear to the next train has also been provided. Also, the Research Designs & Standards Organisation (RDSO), along with Indian OEMs, has developed India’s own Automatic Train Protection (ATP) System named KAVACH (Train Collision Avoidance System) which activates the train braking system automatically if the Loco Pilot fails to control the train as per the Signal Aspect and Permanent Speed Restrictions. It also prevents collision between two locomotives equipped with a functional KAVACH system.
Over the last 9.5 years, the investment which has gone in Railway safety has been of the order of ₹1.08 trillion. This is almost double the investment which went into safety during the 10-year period between 2004-14. The number of rail accidents has fallen from 150 before 2014 to an average of about 47-50 now.
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Updated: 04 Dec 2023, 09:18 PM IST